Dutch sex workers returned to Amsterdam’s red light district on May 19 after six “boring” months off, as the government began to ease coronavirus restrictions.
Sex workers could be seen in their canalside window booths for the first time since early December, during which time many say they had no government support.
The rooms where they meet clients now have official Covid-19 guidelines attached to the walls warning people to wash their hands, and wear a mask if they wish.
“I’m extremely happy that we are open again after such a long time without having work,” said a sex worker who identified herself as Kelly.
“For many girls it’s a catastrophe, surely because most of them got no support from the government and had to work illegally.”
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands but the government banned it along with other “contact professions” in December during the second wave of coronavirus.
As a result many sex workers were forced to work illegally, often in unsafe conditions, sex worker unions said.
Careful with our hygiene’
But like many other people across Europe returning to their workplaces as vaccines temper the outbreak, Kelly said it was also simply good to be back at work.
“It’s so nice to see my colleagues again and have some regularity in my life. Sitting at home is really boring,” she said.
“It’s just a pity that there are not many tourists yet, because that’s what keeps Amsterdam ticking.”
Another sex worker, Jeanne, said it was unfair they had been excluded when other professions such as hairdressers had been allowed to reopen months ago.
“We can also get sick and we can contaminate our clients so we are without fail very careful with our hygiene,” she said.
“Everything related to hand-washing and such measures we were doing it before,” she said.
With its neon-lit booths and sex shows, the red light district has long been one of Amsterdam’s main tourism draws, even if some locals resent the overcrowding and behaviour of young groups of mainly male visitors.
“Now the girls are open again, the bars are open again, it’s a step forward actually, I’m really happy,” said bar manager Davey Mell, 27.
“This has been a hard time for everybody here in Amsterdam, especially in this district.”
Barber Kieran Deacon, 23, said the return of the sex workers had been “very good for the atmosphere of the area.
“I hope that the tourists start to get back, a lot of our business model here relies on tourism,” he added.
However he also backed calls for local authorities to clean up the area and make it less frantic.
Amsterdam officials have even talked of moving the sex workers to a centre on the outskirts of town to reduce the impact on the historic area, even if many people who work there want less drastic measures.